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Disrupted Supply Chains, Smart Tech And The Stalled Promise Of Industry 4.0

The fourth industrial revolution promised rapid societal transformation due to advances in smart technologies including VR, AI, robotics and 3D printing. Richard Markoff and Ralf Seifert from the International Institute for Management Development discuss why the revolution stalled and their suggestions for kicking it into gear.

It’s been nearly a decade since the term ‘fourth industrial revolution‘ was coined, yet many people won’t have heard of it, or know what it refers to.

Also known as industry 4.0, it’s a way of describing how connecting together different advanced technologies could transform how we make things. An example of this could be putting artificial intelligence (AI) into factory robots.

Although there’s no formal agreement we are living through this new age, it’s a sign of the importance with which many people regard these developments and their potential. The previous industrial revolutions were: the rise of steam power in the late 18th century, the use of electricity to power machines at the end of the 19th century, and the shift to digital electronics that started in the 1970s.

These were defined by clear milestones. But many emerging technologies could claim to be part of industry 4.0. These include virtual reality (VR) to simulate what’s going on in an assembly line and 3D printing. There are also lesser known developments such as digital twins – virtual models that accurately reflect the behaviour of physical objects such as wind turbines or aircraft engines.

Any technology that is ‘smart’ or ‘cyber-physical’ — where the lines between the digital and physical worlds are blurred — can claim to be part of the fourth industrial revolution.

But many companies appear to have been slow to take advantage of these developments. Here, we’ll show why that could be and the changes that may be necessary to ensure these transformative technologies live up to their potential.

Any technology that is ‘smart’ or ‘cyber-physical’ — where the lines between the digital and physical worlds are blurred — can claim to be part of the fourth industrial revolution.

A stalled revolution?

A supply chain describes the entire system for producing a product, from raw materials to delivering the finished article to a consumer. So it’s useful to look at the impact industry 4.0 technologies have had on these chains.

It’s difficult to measure how much of an effect specific technologies might be having on the economy. However, one thing we can do is see what impact they have made on decision makers in companies.

One of us (Ralf Seifert) recently published the results of a survey of several hundred senior executives. The survey asked the executives their views on managing supply chains.

None of the top priorities listed by the executives relate to industry 4.0. Headline-grabbing technologies strongly associated with the fourth industrial revolution, such as AI and machine learning, the internet of things, robotics and 3D printing are in the bottom third of priorities.

A look at online trends also reveals that searches for “industry 4.0” peaked in 2019, but have since dropped to a significantly lower level.

There could be a number of potential reasons for this disappointing embrace of industry 4.0 by companies. In 2020, a survey by the accounting giant KPMG showed that, of all industry 4.0 technologies, only cloud computing had reached an advanced — though still incomplete — level of implementation.

For many businesses, the benefits of other important technologies remain obscure. The daily pressures of service and cost take precedence, so it takes effort to move away from familiar solutions. This is consistent with the dip in searches for industry 4.0 — even as global supply chains have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, the blockage of the Suez Canal shipping lane in 2021, floods hampering rail transport and a shortage of shipping containers.

The KPMG report from 2020 found that less than half of business leaders had a good understanding of the term ‘fourth industrial revolution’.

High risk, high scrutiny

A lack of awareness is one hurdle for the adoption of industry 4.0 technologies. Another is the need to build the business case for expenditure on new technological solutions.

The more ambitious the technology, the higher the risk and scrutiny. Not every company has leaders ready to champion and sponsor innovation in the face of uncertain or less tangible outcomes.

Industry 4.0 initiatives can also lead to resistance to change among workers. IT departments, trained for years to seek out large enterprise solution providers, hesitate to recommend niche solutions from small companies — especially for technologies they’re not familiar with.

One way to address this is to commit resources to building separate teams tasked with identifying and prioritising industry 4.0 capabilities. Even then, however, there must be an alignment with the broader business strategies of a company.

From crisis to opportunity

The unprecedented supply chain disruptions over the last two years have pushed executives to consider reconfiguring their supply chains. More often than not, however, they are opting to do this in a conventional manner.

Reshoring (returning manufacturing to the company’s original country) and nearshoring (transferring manufacturing to a closer-by, rather than more distant, country) have become popular options for companies looking to build the resilience of their supply chains.

The unprecedented supply chain disruptions over the last two years have pushed executives to consider reconfiguring their supply chains.

Industry 4.0 technologies have a role to play in this transition. For example, the rethinking of global supply chains came about through a need to reduce labour costs.

Driverless forklifts, or automated guided vehicles (AGVs), are one example of the way robotics can mitigate rising costs elsewhere. Additive manufacturing — the industrial name for 3D printing — can simplify and reduce the cost of production processes that involve two or more costly steps.

For supply chains that cross international borders, there will be an added incentive to use digital platforms for improving the ability to track inventory — a term covering everything from raw materials to finished products — and to help transport goods. This will help companies identify unplanned disruptions more quickly and react to them appropriately.

The very supply chain dysfunctions that made headlines and arguably slowed the short-term progress of industry 4.0 may yet prove to be the engine that finally delivers its promise.

Richard Markoff is a supply chain researcher at the International Institute for Management Development. He is also a supply chain coach, consultant, entrepreneur and lecturer. He has a PhD from ESCP Europe in supply chain management.

Ralf Seifert is professor of operations management at the International Institute for Management Development. His primary research and teaching interests relate to operations management, supply chain strategy and technology management. He holds PhD degree in management science from Stanford University.


Daisy Lowe’s designer mother Pearl is putting her beachside bolthole up for sale for £1.8million after she transformed it during lockdown

  • Pearl Lowe is selling 1940s Shell House in order to relocate to London

Daisy Lowe‘s mother Pearl has put her beachside home on sale for £1.8million. 

Former singer Pearl Lowe, 53, purchased the Shell House on the East Sussex coast during lockdown but have now decided to sell it up in order to move to London.

The 1940s ‘beach shack’ was built by a soldier who was married to shell artist Theresa Arnott, who crafted the home with seaside-themed installations using shells from nearby Winchelsea beach.

Mrs Lowe and her husband Supergrass’s Danny Goffey, 49 transformed the property, which sleeps 12, after they purchased it in February 2021.

Prior to moving to East Sussex, the couple had lived for seven years in a Georgian manor in Frome, Somerset, the Times reported.

Daisy Lowe's designer mother Pearl has put a east Sussex beach house on the market for £1.8million after buying it in lockdown

Daisy Lowe’s designer mother Pearl has put a east Sussex beach house on the market for £1.8million after buying it in lockdown

Pearl (pictured left with daughter Daisy),53, purchased Shell House in February 2021 with her husband Daniel Goffey

Pearl (pictured left with daughter Daisy),53, purchased Shell House in February 2021 with her husband Daniel Goffey

The decor is in contrast to the designer's usual maximalist style

The decor is in contrast to the designer’s usual maximalist style

The vintage-looking Burlington bathroom complete with Bert & May patterned tiles

The vintage-looking Burlington bathroom complete with Bert & May patterned tiles

Mrs Lowe also added a deVOL Shaker-style kitchen

Mrs Lowe also added a deVOL Shaker-style kitchen 

READ MORE: Pearl Lowe admits she dropped her Primrose Hill pals in a bid to kick drug habit and says her ‘turning point’ came when her toddler almost popped a pill as she celebrates 15 years of sobriety

The Shell House has been the setting for many parties, which Mrs Lowe has furnished with luxury fittings including a deVOL Shaker-style kitchen for a ‘vintage’ look, Bert & May-patterned tiles and Burlington bathrooms.

She also added a wildflower path leading up to the cosy self-contained two-bedroom cabin, which comes iwith a log-burner and roll top bath.

But the decor contrasts with her signature pattern clashes and ‘maximalist’ tones, with the designer admitting that a beach house needed to be more ‘basic’.

In March 2022, a pool was installed on the site of a pond along with a steam room and wood-fired tub.

Pearl was visited at the pad by her large family at Christmas – when 18 snuggled into the property.

In March 2022, a pool was installed on the site of a pond along with a steam room and wood-fired tub

In March 2022, a pool was installed on the site of a pond along with a steam room and wood-fired tub

The designer described the home, just a stone's throw from the seaside, as the 'most enchanting place'

The designer described the home, just a stone’s throw from the seaside, as the ‘most enchanting place’ 

She has three children with Mr Goffey, Alfie, 27, Frankie, 24 and Betty, 18, as well as her eldest daughter Daisy, with singer Gavin Rossdale.

But the couple are now looking to move to the capital, possibly Hackney, to be closer to their growing family, after Daisy and her partner Jordan Saul had their first child, Ivy, in April.

Mrs Lowe also also rents out the property from £6.650 a week on Unique Homestays, where the home has proved divisive with guests, with some moaning about the rugs with rips in them.

Mrs Lowe described the property as a ‘most enchanting place’ and close to many ‘amazing’ vintage shops including Hawk and Dove, Merchant 57, Xanadu and AG Hendy.

She added that several ‘a-listers’ had visited the pad. 

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Chemistry Problems & Quantum Computing

The researchers compared the results of a conventional and quantum computer to minimise error calculations, which could eventually be scaled up to solve more complicated problems.

Scientists in Sweden have successfully managed to use a quantum computer to solve simple chemistry problems, as a proof-of-concept for more advanced calculations.

Currently, conventional supercomputers are used in quantum chemistry to help scientists learn more about chemical reactions, which materials can be developed and the characteristics they have.

But these conventional computers have a limit to the calculations they can handle. It is believed quantum computers will eventually be able to handle extremely complicated simulations, which could lead to new pharmaceutical discoveries or the creation of new materials.

However, these quantum machines are so sensitive that their calculations suffer from errors. Imperfect control signals, interference from the environment and unwanted interactions between quantum bits – qubits – can lead to “noise” that disrupts calculations.

The risk of errors grows as more qubits are added to a quantum computer, which complicates attempts to create more powerful machines or solve more complicated problems.

Comparing conventional and quantum results

In the new study by Chalmers University, scientists aimed to resolve this noise issue through a method called reference-state error mitigation.

This method involves finding a “reference state” by describing and solving the same problem on both a conventional and a quantum computer.

The reference state is a simpler description of a molecule that can be solved by a normal computer. By comparing the results from both computers, the scientists were able to estimate the scale of error the quantum computer had in its calculation.

The difference between the two computers’ results for the simpler reference problem was then applied to correct the quantum computer’s solution for the original, more complex problem.

This method allowed the scientists to calculate the intrinsic energy of small example molecules such as hydrogen on the university’s quantum computer.

Associate professor Martin Rahm – who led the study – believes the result is an important step forward that can be used to improve future quantum-chemical calculations.

“We see good possibilities for further development of the method to allow calculations of larger and more complex molecules, when the next generation of quantum computers are ready,” Rahm said.

Research is happening around the world to fix the problems limiting the development of more advanced quantum computers.

Earlier this month, Tyndall’s Prof Peter O’Brien told about his group’s work in addressing a key challenge in quantum technology and how quantum communications will make eavesdropping ‘impossible’.

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12 Outstanding Tech Resources To Improve Your Skills

If you want to improve your tech skills and don’t know where to start, this list introduces you to some of the resources out there.

If you’re familiar with our advice pieces, you’ll know that we regularly mention various resources you can use to upskill in tech.

We’ve steered readers towards courses from the likes of Udemy, Udacity and Coursera for learning tech concepts from machine learning to data literacy skills. And we’ve pointed out Python meet-ups run by Python Ireland among others.

But what if you’re not sure what these platforms are? Or you aren’t sure which one is the best one for you and your learning style? Maybe you like the idea of Python Ireland and you want to find other similar groups.

Here is an introduction to some of the best resources out to hone your tech skills.


Founded by two Stanford University computer scientists, Coursera is a global online learning platform for techies of all stripes.

It has partnerships with major companies like IBM and Google, as well as with universities such as Stanford and Imperial College London.

If you need a bit of guidance, scroll to the bottom section of the Coursera homepage and you’ll find articles that provide advice on how you can achieve a career in areas such as data analytics using the site.

In terms of courses, it provides everything from short certificates to longer postgraduate degree programmes.


This one is for anyone who wants to brush up on their coding skills; the clue is in the name. Codeacademy offers free short courses in a variety of languages such as Python, C++, C, C+, Bash, Go, HTML, R, SQL and Ruby.

Codeacademy is particularly useful for people who like interactive learning, as it has links to cheatsheets, projects, video and coding challenges under Resources at the bottom of its homepage.

It has a pretty active online community, too.


This Coursera rival – its founders are MIT and Harvard scientists – carries thousands of courses. Like Coursera, many are university-level, with edX making use of its partnerships with the likes of Boston University, University of Cambridge and Google.

Scroll to the bottom of the homepage and you’ll find boot camp courses in topics such as fintech and cybersecurity, as well as longer courses.

Data Camp

Like Codeacademy, Data Camp is quite hands-on and has a lot of short, free courses. It’s best for people who are interested in data science and related technologies.

You can select a specific skill you want to brush up on (like data literacy, NLP, machine learning) or you can explore different career paths such as data scientist, data analyst and statistician.

If you just want to get to grips with a particular tech tool (ChatGPT, Tableau) you can do that too.

Irish meet-up groups

Going along to events run by Irish tech community groups can be a fun way to keep on top of new tech trends and meet like-minded people.

You can find lots of different events on Meetup no matter what you’re interested in. Dublin Linux Community meets monthly, as does Python Ireland and Kubernetes Dublin.

If you want something more casual, there is a coffee chat for indie hackers in Dublin in early June. And it isn’t just the in capital: there are online events and conferences, as well as things going on in Cork, Galway and Belfast.

Khan Academy

Khan Academy is another one to consider if you want to do an online tech course, even though it’s not as well known as some of the other names on this list.

Its short video lessons are good for beginners and it provides lessons and learning paths for children, too.

It is a non-profit organisation and it aims to educate people all over the world for free.

LinkedIn Learning

The educational offshoot of LinkedIn has business and tech courses galore for anyone who wants to perfect certain skills.

If you already have LinkedIn, LinkedIn Learning is a good bet as you can add your certificates of completion to your profile.

It’s not free, however, but it does offer a one-month free trial.


Software educational platform Pluralsight provides learning plans for teams as well as individuals. It’s quite skills focused, perhaps more so than some of the other resources that include non-tech courses on their sites.

You can pick up new skills like cloud tech, programming and test your progress using specially designed exercises.


Best for creative techies, Skillshare carries courses in things such as graphic design and photography – but many of these areas are arguably tech focused.

If you’re interested in things like UX and UI design or how tech tools can be used for creative purposes, you may find a short course that takes your fancy.

It’s got a lot of creatives on its books that are willing to, yes, share their skills.

Digital Skillnet

An Irish resource for all things technological, Digital Skillnet is a great site to keep in mind for future educational and upskilling opportunities.

If you prefer the familiarity of an Irish-run organisation, it has plenty of information about the types of careers you can break into.

Whether you’re an employer looking to find resources and courses for employees, or an individual looking to reskill, upskill or find a tech job, Digital Skillnet should definitely be one of your first ports of call.


Udacity is pretty good for anyone who wants to try out a tech course as it has a lot of short and beginner courses as well as longer ones.

It also has an AI chatbot running in beta which offers to assist you when you visit its website.

You can pick from courses on topics such as programming and development, AI, data science, business intelligence and cloud computing.

Scroll to the bottom of the homepage for in-depth career-related resources.


One for bargain hunters, Udemy constantly runs sales on its courses. It has hundreds of thousands of courses, too, so you won’t have difficulty finding something.

It’s good for beginners as many of the courses are short and delivered through video. What’s cool about Udemy is there is so much on the site that you can quite easily find courses on a certain topic from beginner right through to specialist level.

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